Monday, January 7, 2013

The Liquor Store

When I retired I encountered a problem in that most of my friends were fifteen or twenty years younger than I. Most were busy with jobs and families and I saw them only occasionally. The first couple of years of my retirement found me mostly at home, mostly in front of my PC. I could almost hear my mother's voice: "For Christ's sake, Donnie, get out and air the stink off yourself."

I decided it was time to find a part time job, which would serve two purposes: it would give me extra spending money and it would get me out of the house and into the world of flesh and blood people, as opposed to cyber-people. This was a good thought, but I am a procrastinator par excellence, and for a while I did nothing about it.

I lived a couple of blocks from a small strip mall in the Chicago suburbs. One of the establishments was a large (8,000 square feet) liquor store and I was in the habit of buying the occasional pack of cigarettes there. At some point I noticed that there was quite a turnover among the cashiers. Some were sour, some were ho-hum, some were funny, and some were friendly, but none seemed to last.

One day I entered the store to find yet another stranger behind a cash register, and a light went on in my head. I looked around and spotted a Korean man, Hwan, whom I knew to be the store owner. I walked over and chatted with him for a moment, mentioning the rate of turnover and he said, "What I'm gonna do? Young guys aren't so reliable. Maybe they come to work, maybe not. Young women got kids, sometimes can't get a sitter, sometimes kid is sick."

I told him that I was retired, that I lived a couple of blocks away, that I was reliable, and might be interested in a cashier position. I was going to be away for a few days (it was family reunion time) but I would be back to touch base with him after that.

A few days later I gave him my name and phone number and promptly forgot about it. He, however, did not, and in another day or two he called me and asked if I would pay him a visit at the store. I did and we chatted a few minutes. He was concerned that I might have "salary expectations" but I knew that this was not a career position. I told him that I had never operated a cash register and he would have to teach me everything about it. We did a deal and I found myself working part time six days a week: four shifts noon to four, a Sunday 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM shift, and one other, I forget the details.

Hwan was fun to work with. He was in his early fifties and he had a fairly good English vocabulary. However, he often used the wrong forms of words, particularly intended adjectives:

Donnie, during a lull in store business: "Hwan, I'm bored. I need something to do."

(Hwan disappeared, then returned with a hand truck loaded with cases of minis  - shots, airplane bottles, nip bottles, whatever term is familiar to you - that were to restock some shelves.)

Hwan: "Donnie, are you boring?"

Donnie: "Opinions differ."

I worked there for four or five years before burning out, the main cause of that being Hwan's sale of the store to another Korean couple, both snakes.

I missed Hwan but there was a lot of continuity in the customers. A couple were crabby, a couple were arrogant, but most were friendly and some were definite characters. We chatted and teased a lot, and now this causes me to think about the makeup of the customer base.

A rough guess would be that it was 25% black, 30% Mexican, 5% Indian, 5% other Asian (mostly Korean), and 35% Caucasian (including some Poles and expatriates from several other European countries).

Hwan had also picked up quite a bit of Spanish and would chatter away both in English and in Spanish with the Mexicans, who called him "Chino" (pronounced Cheeno). No amount of discussion would persuade them to remember that he was Korean, not Chinese, and Chino he was to them. If he was absent one of them might ask, "Where's the Chinese guy?" His wife was "China" ("Cheena").

My favorite bit of teasing between him and them involved a new hire, a spectacularly built young woman Hwan hired as a part time cashier. Alas, she only worked two days. She was supporting herself by working three other part time jobs and adding this one turned out to be too much for her.

But two days was enough to attract the attention of a great many young men, and on the third day, when several Mexican customers came in, one of them noticed immediately that she was not there. He asked Hwan where she was and Hwan replied, "She no like you. Too small dick."

Several years later that customer was still referred to by the employees as "Too Small Dick." (Ironically, she was a lesbian, a fact not known by the customers and perhaps not by Hwan.)

One last thing about the Mexican clientele: I noticed that sometimes two or more would come into the store together, come up to the counter with a few things, and then have one of them pay for all of the purchases. When that happened it was not quite universally true, but almost always the one who paid did not carry. He paid and walked away and his companion or companions carried the purchases. And this began very early. I recall seeing two boys, perhaps eight years old, approach the counter with a two liter bottle of Coca-Cola.
One paid and walked away and the other grabbed the bag with the Coke.


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